Welcome to Baker College’s new “Spotlight” feature, a series of brief interviews with notable Baker College faculty and alumni who are making news and reaching new heights in their professional pursuits, as well as conversations with noteworthy current and graduating Baker College students.
This edition of Spotlight features Alexis (Allie) Graziano, a nursing student at Baker College of Cadillac. Allie was recently crowned Miss Michigan for America 2020, also simultaneously earning the competition’s Community Service Award. Having earned the state title, Allie will now move on to compete in the national pageant in Las Vegas this August.
Baker College (BC): You were recently crowned the 2020 winner of the Miss Michigan for America Pageant. Tell us a bit about the competition and why you chose to compete?
Allie Graziano (AG): The Miss Michigan for America Pageant was held in Plainwell, Mich. in early March. If you win the title of Miss Michigan for America, it allows you to advance to the national, “Miss for America” pageant held in Las Vegas in August. This means that August 13-20, 2020, I will be competing for the title of Miss for America, representing the great state of Michigan.
I wanted to compete because I have always been heavily involved in community service and advocating for my platform #Optoutside, which educates children and parents on the importance of getting young people outside and connected to nature. I want to encourage children to choose green time over screen time, and the opportunity to promote my platform on a bigger scale through the pageant was one I couldn’t pass up.
BC: In addition to winning the title, you also won the pageant’s Community Service Award. Why/how did you earn that recognition? How does it feel to be honored in that way as well?
AG: I didn’t know they were presenting a Community Service award until my name was called! Through their own research, as well as information gleaned through interviews I’ve done about my work overseas in Nicaragua, planting trees, reading to local students, etc., the judges and board of directors determined that I had made the biggest community impact.
When they announced me as the winner, I felt incredibly proud of the number of hours and the effort I have spent giving back throughout my numerous projects. I also felt a sense of fulfillment for every person who I have been able to help, and the non-profit organizations I have been able to support along the way.
BC: What was/is your biggest takeaway from pageant competition? What would you want others to understand about the event/process?
AG: One of my favorite quotes is, “What is for me, will not pass me.” This wasn’t my first pageant. In fact, I have lost more times than I have won, or even heard my name called as a finalist. I have walked away from competitions disheartened over the results, confused as to why I would have this dream placed on my heart if it wasn’t for me. My biggest takeaway is that at the end of the day, whether in pageant competition or just in everyday life, what is meant for you will not pass you by.
What I really want people to understand about the pageant world is that the events are not like what you see portrayed on reality TV…they are not, “toddlers and tiaras.” Yes, there are pretty gowns and glamorous sparkles, but the majority of the competition is conducted in interviews with the judges behind closed doors. It’s about making a meaningful connection with others quickly, and being able to present and market yourself well.
BC: You are very active with volunteer efforts like Girls on the Run and FLOW (For Love of Water). Why is giving back important to you, and how did you come to align yourself with these particular organizations?
AG: I have always loved giving back, even from a young age…helping out at my church's nursery or working to feed the homeless with my family…volunteerism has been something that gives me joy. Over the years, in working with different organizations, I have found places that feel like a perfect fit for my passions. Girls on the Run is an organization that gets girls outside and active, and FLOW is an organization working to protect our environment and public waterways. Once you find an organization that aligns with your own personal beliefs and interests, it is easy to want to donate your time!
BC: You also have a personal platform known as, #Optoutside. What can you tell us about this initiative and its significance for you?
AG: I have always enjoyed being outside and being active. Some of my favorite hobbies include: running, biking, paddle boarding and visiting National Parks with my family. I wanted to promote something that was not only important to me personally, but something that I could confidently speak to why it is important for everyone. My initiative is really geared towards children…encouraging green time over screen time…but I think it is equally important for adults to find time to press pause on work and get outside daily as well.
I feel it’s important for children to unplug and connect to nature because it allows them to use their imagination, concentrate better in school, and build a connection to the outdoors, which will in turn make them much more likely to want to protect and preserve the environment for future generations to come.
BC: You are currently studying nursing at Baker College. What drew you to pursue a career in the health care field?
AG: I have always felt that health care was the career path I was called to follow. From my first pretend doctor’s kit when I was five-years-old, to today as a collegiate nursing student, I never have had any doubts. I love caring for patients, and children in particular. When my younger sister was born, I would wake up every morning, change her diaper, feed her and put her back to bed before leaving for school. In middle school, I participated in the allied health program and got an opportunity to job shadow in the hospital’s NICU…that’s when I really knew that health care is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
BC: Why did you choose to pursue your education at Baker College? What are your career goals once you complete your nursing degree from Baker?
AG: I love the diversity and opportunities that Baker has to offer. For example, my pediatric rotation will not be done at a small community hospital where I may never see a patient, it will take place at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, where I will be exposed to a larger pediatric population and really get the most out of the clinical site. In addition, Baker offers clinical rotations at multiple different locations, so you can experience the specialty in more than one environment.
After I complete my nursing degree, I want to continue my education and become a nurse practitioner with a specialty in the neonatal intensive care unit.
BC: What has been the most rewarding part of your academic experience at Baker so far? What have you found the most challenging?
AG: The most rewarding part is having a group of people support me along the way, celebrating all of my, “wins,” in the academic setting and beyond, and also being there to pick me up when I fall short. The whole nursing staff at Baker in Cadillac has gone above-and-beyond to help me achieve my goals…in particular my mentor and teacher, Christy Rapoza.
The most challenging aspect would be taking nursing exams, but I am getting the hang of it!
BC: As a pageant winner, future nurse and community activist, where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? What else can we expect to see from you?
AG: After getting my bachelor’s degree in nursing from Baker, I plan on taking a year off from school to gain experience in the field, then picking right back up to continue my education to obtain my nurse practitioner degree. My ultimate career goal is to be working as a neonatal nurse practitioner. Some of the other things I plan to do include: going on medical mission trips to provide care in underprivileged areas, checking off the rest of my National Parks “bucket list” and continuing to push myself to try new things!
BC: What piece of advice can you share with other young women as they plan their academic, professional and personal pursuits?
AG: The greatest piece of advice I could share with any young woman is to follow your heart, chase your own dreams and go after what sets your soul on fire. You will never be contented if you are only doing something to please others…find that one thing that makes you truly happy. It is said that when you find something you enjoy doing, you’ll never have to work a day in your life, and I strongly believe in that.
For more on the Nursing Pre-RN Licensure bachelor's program at Baker College, visit https://www.baker.edu/academics/undergraduate-studies/college-of-health-science/school-of-nursing/nursing-pre-rn-licensure-bs.